After writing an article on President George Washington, a Facebook friend of mine responded to the article telling me that Washington’s apparent conversion story was like that of Oscar Wilde, a famed writer and play producer. I thought that was interesting as I had not read anything about Oscar Wilde but I did find that he was received into the Catholic Faith on his death bed.
That is the good news, so as I looked at the Oscar Wilde story, how he lived his life, I began to see the sadness that people find themselves. Oscar Wilde obviously had great talent as a writer and an artist, he had met some very famous people, but because of his lifestyle of sin and rebellion, he would lose his family and would never see his children again.
Oscar Wilde lived in a conservative time in human history, he was born in 1854 Dublin Ireland but would die in exile in 1900. He was born of a good family, his father, Sir Robert Wills Wilde was knighted for his service to Queen Victoria. Highly regarded as an eye and ear specialist, he performed surgery for Irish dramatist, George Bernard Shaw.
Thinking about this story, I can’t help but relate this with so many people today who have all that the world has to offer, but yet squander it all away because of loose, sinful living. Think of the Athlete today who works his way up to the professional level and gains millions of dollars only to loose it all. That is like the life of Oscar Wilde, son of Sir Robert Wills Wilde.
Today, Oscar Wilde might have been a pop icon, he certainly was flamboyant for the times he lived. Perhaps Oscar Wilde was more influenced by his mother, Jane Fransesca Agnes Elgee, who published under the name Speranza. Oscar certainly followed after his mother being a poet and writer.
Because of his family foundations, Oscar Wilde was given the prestige of attending the best schools, at 19 years of age, he attended Porotra Royal School in Enniskillen where he was taught religion, which is important because this might have planted a seed that Oscar Wilde would carry for the rest of his life.
Oscar Wilde would go to Trinity College in Dublin between 1874-1879, then finally Magdalen College in Oxford. It is interesting to note that he went to Magdalen College because of the schools name sake. If you recall Mary of Magdela, from the bible and tradition, we learn that Mary of Magdela was a prostitute who had a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ. Something that every Catholic spiritually encounters at every Confession.
Oscar Wilde excelled in his classes winning the Newdigate prize all of which began to build a solid foundation for himself as a poet. It was at this time that he began to live for the moment, he changed his appearance beyond recognition in his dress, his manner, even his hair. Yes, he might have been a modern day rock star.
His outward appearance was complimented by his interest in keeping his furniture and was particularly known for his collection of blue china. Apparently, he lived a lavish lifestyle living for the moment, his aesthetic mode of life. He developed a wide following both good and bad.
Wilde would eventually marry Constance Mary Lloyd, but never really grew up, he maintained his flamboyant lifestyle to advance his reputation. He was known to wear knee-breeches and a velvet jacket carrying a single flower. Maybe his lifestyle would be what influenced our modern pop culture beginning with Woodstock? Sure does look like it.
W.S. Gilbert, George Du Maurier, and F.C. Barnard must of thought so too? These people used Oscar Wilde’s look for comedy using satire which fed Oscars ego. This would ultimately lead to an American tour in 1882. Think of this, at the time in America that the Old West was being won, at the time of the gunfight at the OK Coral in Tombstone, D’Oyly Carter was structuring an Oscar Wilde lecture tour along with his play, “Patience”. It is just interesting to me how wide apart the high lavished life was in America’s elite was compared to the common man.
Perhaps it is this kind of lifestyle that we make for ourselves that works to appeal to those appetites appealing to the flesh. In America, this was counterculture for so long until after the Industrial Revolution and life in the big cities began to take a life of it’s own. This was the life of Oscar Wilde and the moment to moment he lived for.
Oscar Wilde would meet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Ward Beecher, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Walt Whitman who called Wilde “a great, big splendid boy”. Wilde was developing a persona through his dress, his mannerisms that led to ridicule, but that was his lifestyle.
Oscar Wilde married his longtime girlfriend, Constance Mary Lloyd who together had two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. But after their second son, Wilde would turn his back on his family and started his road to infamy.
Wilde has some successes, but he had far more problems because of his lifestyle. Today, what Wilde began living would be what we call “coming out of the closet”. He developed a sexual relationship with a Robert Ross, Canadian art critic and journalist. He then met Lord Alfred Douglas (1891) who would be dominated by Wilde until Wilde’s arrest for Sodomy.
Wilde committed himself to writing, he became editor of Woman’s World and he wrote fiction that were published. In 1888 Wilde published The Happy Prince and Other Tales, strangely, he would write children’s tales.
In 1889, Wilde’s published “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” in Blackwood’s Magazine, what this is remembered for is that Wilde is making a point of William Shakespeare as if he was writing to a young male actor. Wilde makes accusations without giving any facts. In 1890, Lippincott Magazine published Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was rendered obscene because of the homosexual content.
In 1892, Wilde’s play, Salone, was banned in England but would be published in French. Remember Oscar Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas? Well the Marquess of Queensberry remembered this relationship very well. The Marquess of Queensberry was Lord Alfred Douglas’s father. He caught Wilde with his son eating at the Cafe Royal which would end with Wilde’s imprisonment for Sodomy.
Wilde being tried, his friends wanted him to flee to France, his Mother wanted him to fight the charges, during the trial, Wilde pleaded not guilty, but his response to a question caused great outcry. He was asked under oath to define, “the love that dare not speak its name”, a phrase taken from Lord Alfred Douglas poem, “Two loves”.
Wilde replied that in this century is such a great affection of the elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato, Michelangelo, and William Shakespeare. Wilde is assuming that David and Jonathan had something more than being friends. Wilde is taking 1 Samuel 20:17 out of context, “And in his love for David, Jonathan renewed his oath to him, because he loved him as his very self.”
Jesus taught that “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself, the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” I remember debating homosexuality with someone who raised Wilde’s argument before, I didn’t know this had come from Wilde.
As a result to his answer to the question, Wilde went to prison until 1897. He lived in Europe taking the name of Sabastian Melmoth because of his newly found respect for St. Sebastian, the 3rd Century Catholic martyr.
Perhaps St. Sebastian was praying for Wilde from his heavenly home, what a great gift we have coming from the great cloud of witnesses.
At this time, Constance Wilde and her two sons, Cyril and Vyvyan, left to Europe changing her last name to Holland to protect her sons from their father’s reputation.
Wilde would never see his family again, Constance died due to complications to a spinal surgery and the sons were protected by her family.
After living a lavish, sinful way of life, forfeiting his fathers name giving himself over to the way of the world, Wilde would die alone in Hotel d’Alsace in Paris.
By November 25, 1900, Wilde developed cerebral meningitis, his friend Robbie Ross on 29 November, called for a Catholic Priest, Father Cuthbert Dunne, a Passionist priest from Dublin, who gave Wilde a conditional baptism on the fact that Wilde was baptized a Catholic as a child. Father Dunn records:
“As the voiture rolled through the dark streets that wintry night, the sad story of Oscar Wilde was in part repeated to me….Robert Ross knelt by the bedside, assisting me as best he could while I administered conditional baptism, and afterwards answering the responses while I gave Extreme Unction to the prostrate man and recited the prayers for the dying. As the man was in a semi-comatose condition, I did not venture to administer the Holy Viaticum; still I must add that he could be roused and was roused from this state in my presence. When roused, he gave signs of being inwardly conscious… Indeed I was fully satisfied that he understood me when told that I was about to receive him into the Catholic Church and gave him the Last Sacraments… And when I repeated close to his ear the Holy Names, the Acts of Contrition, Faith, Hope and Charity, with acts of humble resignation to the Will of God, he tried all through to say the words after me.”
Today, people want to celebrate the way he lived his life, but my heart is touched by the way he died. Romans 10:9 states, “for, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
I quickly want to make the point of the importance of planting seeds in peoples lives, perhaps at Wilde’s last moments he remembered something of his father, maybe something was seeded in him at Magdalen College. Despite the serious sin Wilde lived throughout his life, despite his legacy left behind that the world celebrates, Jesus was still able to save him in the end.
If you are a parent who grieves for a child because of the wayward life they are living, Jesus gives this parable:
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.
But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’
And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
Please pray for America that we turn our way of life back to the foundations of our holy Faith, “Beloved, although I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I now felt a need to write to encourage you contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones. For there have been some intruders, who long ago were designated for this condemnation, godless persons, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and who deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude 3-4
James 5:19-20 states, “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Oscar Wilde escaped the clutches of the Devil through the Ministry of the Lord’s holy Catholic Church.